TARPON SPRINGS — A plan to spur economic development and connect two of Tarpon Springs' main economic arteries has moved forward despite concerns that business owners in one of the areas were not consulted.
The City Commission unanimously voted Tuesday night to spend $500,000 over two years to allow the Renaissance Group of Orlando to create a plan for the downtown area and the Sponge Docks. That money also would cover plans for North Stafford Avenue and Lemon Street streetscape design and a signage plan for the downtown and Sponge Docks areas.
Renea Vincent, the city's planning and zoning director, initially requested nearly $1 million for the work. But property owners in the city's downtown area balked at spending that amount on "another study" and were concerned they were not consulted.
The city adopted a downtown development action plan in 2000 and shortly after formed the Community Redevelopment Agency for the downtown area. Property owners in that area pay a special tax that is to be reinvested in the district. Property owners said the majority of the funding for the city's plan is coming from that fund.
John Tarapani, a downtown property owner and a city planning board member, said spending that amount of money equated to an "egregious misuse of public funds."
Vasile Faklis, who owns a business on Tarpon Avenue, agreed and went on to say: "We have a large stake in Tarpon Springs, and our voices should be heard."
Tarapani was pleased with the city's decision not to spend a million dollars but was still concerned about the lack of communication between the city's staff and downtown property owners.
City officials countered that they have been working on the plan, which included public meetings, for more than a year. In addition, they say the Community Redevelopment Area encompasses more than just downtown and stretches down the Alt. U.S. 19 and Stafford Avenue corridors.
While Mayor Beverley Billiris voted to move forward with the project, she too was concerned about the lack of communication. She asked City Manager Mark LeCouris if he had been meeting with downtown property owners.
"We have to make sure property owners and business owners are treated equally," Billiris said. "If that process was happening, I don't think we would be having this mistrust from the property owners. …
"When we have so much doubt and distrust from any section of our community, then communication has been broken."
LeCouris assured Billiris that he had been communicating with everyone.
"That is not the case," he said of the complaints. "They can bring up and say what they want."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.